While the dogs were scanned in the fMRI, the researchers measured their brain activity in response to human speech delivered in a praising tone of voice and neutral tone of voice. They also looked closely at what happened in the dogs' brains when the researchers used neutral words like "if," which are generally meaningless to dogs, in the same praising tone of voice versus a neutral tone of voice. Unsurprisingly, praise stimulated the dogs' "rewards center" or the region of the brain that reacts to pleasure.
However, the scans revealed that the dogs felt the most pleasure when the researchers praised them with positive words like "well done" and a praising (typically higher pitch) tone of voice.
"It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match, Attila Andics of the University of Budapest, said in a statement, per the report. "So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant."
While the findings are certainly exciting, they're probably not shocking to people who spend a lot of time talking to their dogs. Either way, the next time you tell your dog how damn cute and good they are, just make sure your tone matches your words. A treat will probably help, too.